This asian pasta salad was first introduced to me by one of my best friends in the entire universe, Karen. I had this salad the weekend I visited her in her (then) home in Connecticut back in 2001. We had just moved back to the US after 3 1/2 years in Turkmenistan and we were homeless, crashing at Paul's parent's place in Rockville, MD. I took the train up to see Karen, excited to spend time with her and her family and to catch up.
I was also excited to wear my engagement ring, which had sat in a safety deposit box, uninsured, for the duration of our time living overseas. And considering I only got to wear it for about a year and half before we moved to Turkmenistan, it was happily resting in its rightful place; next to my wedding band, second finger from the left on my left hand.
I remember well the train ride home. I remember the conversation I had with the man next to me about free trade coffee, and how he thought it was a bunch of bunk. He worked for a coffee lobbing organization in DC. He was bunk.
I remember grabbing a diet coke and a salad at Union Station in DC before taking the Metro up to Rockville. And I remember the strange sinking feeling I had in the pit of my stomach as I dumped the contents of my tray into the garbage bin, as if I was throwing something important away. It wasn't until I got into my in-laws apartment an hour later that I realized the prongs of my engagement ring were empty. I'm not sure if it fell into that garbage bin or not, but I remember how I traced my footsteps for hours in the dark with a flashlight, trying to find that stone.
I remember the orzo salad I had at Karen's during that long weekend. And considering that I still get a rock in my stomach and want to throw up talking about that engagement ring, the band with the now-empty prongs which I still have, the fact that I still remember how I ooohed and aaahed over that salad is a testament to how good it was. It's a miracle I didn't erase that weekend from my memory bank altogether. Oh, yes, and about that ring. It was still uninsured.
So, now I share this salad with you. May you never have negative thoughts associated with it!
After boiling a pound of orzo (or any small pasta, like orechiette (small ears), which can be purchased at many of the local grocery stores) and rinsing it in cold water to stop cooking, add some matchstick-sized carrots and raisins.
These raisins, are HUGE, although it's hard to tell in the photo.
Then add in sesame seeds. Alternatively you could add pine nuts. But I've never seen pine nuts in Dushanbe. Have you?
Next chop up some green onion.
And some parsley.
Place all your ingredients into the biggest bowl you have. This makes enough to feed a pro football team. This bowl is about as big as the circumference of my arms when creating a circle in front of me like a ballerina. Nevermind if you can't picture that.
Mix it up.
Now onto the dressing: rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, a bit of sugar and salt, mandarin orange rind, ginger, soy sauce, garlic and crushed red pepper. It's all good.
Mix this well once your salad ingredients are ready.
Then pour it over your salad and mix well.
Serve it either cold or at room temperature. It keeps well in the fridge for several days. And it's perfect for picnics since it doesn't have any mayo in it.
Orzo Salad with Fragrant Sesame Dressing (adapted from Southern Living, if my memory serves me correctly. I've cut down substantially on the oils in this version).
Yield: Enough for a pro football team
1 lb orzo (or other small pasta), uncooked
1 t sesame oil
4 carrots, cut into thin strips
2 cups raisins
1 cup sunflower seeds, toasted (but I didn't bother toasting)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup sliced green onions
Prep: Cook orzo in boiling salted water about 8 minutes until tender, but al dente. Drain. Rinse with cold water. Drain. Combine oil and orzo. Toss all ingredients into a large bowl.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 T salt
1 T sugar
2 T grated mandarin rind
1 t pepper
1 t minced fresh ginger
1 t soy sauce
1/2 t minced garlic
1/4 t dried crushed red pepper
Mix well in a separate bowl. When thoroughly combined, pour over pasta salad and throughly combine.